Joyce Bernier

Joyce Bernier

Joyce Bernier

Bachelor of Arts in Social and Criminal Justice, 2008

"Earning my degree opened doors for me."


You could take a lesson in perseverance from Joyce Bernier. As a single mother of two teen boys, Bernier tried for nearly 14 years to return to school and earn a degree in criminal justice. Faced with a crippling marriage steeped in domestic violence, Bernier was unable to overcome the feelings of inadequacy that plagued her daily but she didn't give up.

In an effort to feel better about herself, she took up female bodybuilding and excelled in it, placing highly in national competitions. In early 2006, Bernier attempted to change her life further. Against her "inner voice" telling her not to move, she relocated with her sons to rural North Carolina and separated from her abusive husband. However the cycle of violence had not been broken and in late 2006, a domestic violence situation nearly took the life of her eldest son at the hands of his father. It was a major turning point. "Once the trauma had subsided and he was incarcerated, I decided it was now time for me to 'take the bull by the horns' and finish what I started long ago. I realized at that very moment, no one is going to give you anything in life. If I want to be an example to my boys of determination and perseverance, then finishing my degree would be the way to go."

Prior to the incident, Bernier had been attending night classes, but no longer feeling that that was safe, she began researching her options for online education. "Within a week I received a call from an admissions counselor from Ashford University. We talked about choices, finances and going beyond." When Bernier learned that the counselor was not only working at Ashford but also attending class, she made her decision. "Not only did I get the answers I wanted, but I now had a friend who would guide me every step of the way.

Bernier enrolled at Ashford to earn her Bachelor's degree in Social & Criminal Justice while working full-time and raising her two sons. Bernier's only regret was not enrolling at Ashford sooner. "Choosing to finish my degree at Ashford has been rewarding and challenging. Each day is a new challenge for me. For example, my philosophy class is forcing me to step outside my comfort zone in the way I think. That is scary! To consider why you think a certain way about things is a whole new area for me."

Bernier was unsure if she could handle the workload and finish this time around, especially having just gone through such drastic trauma. But her inner voice continued to encourage her. "My hope is to be an example to my boys of how you can learn at any age, turn your life around, and look at any situation and find some good in it."

"My goal is to eventually move from this rural town and secure a position in a larger town with better employment opportunities. With my life experience and a heart to help others, I can only imagine how far I can dream."

Joyce graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Social and Criminal Justice in November 2008. When we last spoke, she was working as a social worker in the field of mental health and substance abuse, where she assesses adult offenders. Since graduation, she received both promotions and substantial raises. "Earning my degree opened doors for me. I was able to apply for positions that I was qualified for, since I now had the evidence that I could do the job."

Her sons were also researching colleges, following in their mom's footsteps. Joyce was also back in school pursuing her Master of Arts in Social Work at the University of New England with plans to obtain her license in clinical social work.